The Hong Kong Bar Association has voiced strong criticism of Beijing’s decision to enforce mainland law at the new West Kowloon high-speed rail terminus, saying it was “appalled.” It called the plan the “most retrograde step to date in the implementation of the Basic Law.”
The six-page statement is the first time the professional body of barristers has publicly spoken out against the controversial arrangement, after China’s top legislature approved it and released details of its constitutional underpinnings on Wednesday.
Under the arrangement, Hong Kong will effectively surrender its jurisdiction across a quarter of the new Express Rail terminus, where immigration procedures will be performed by mainland law enforcement agents when it opens next year.
Thursday night’s statement also comes three weeks before the election of the Bar Association’s governing council, in which incumbent chair Paul Lam is set to be challenged by human rights lawyer Philip Dykes. Dykes has promised to “speak out authoritatively and independently on important constitutional and legal issues.”
An ‘unprecedented move’
In an 11-point statement, the Bar Association hit out at the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC)’s reasoning that Basic Law Article 2 – which gives Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” – was the source of authority for the city to enter into the joint checkpoint arrangement with Beijing.
“[The Bar Association] is of the firm view that none of the Basic Law provisions referred to in the [NPCSC’s] explanations provide the source of authority for the co-location arrangement… the implementation of which will clearly mean the disapplication of the systems of the HKSAR,” wrote the Association.
“[The Association] is appalled by the NPCSC co-location decision, which merely… “confirms” that the co-operation agreement is consistent with the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the Basic Law without stating how this is so.”
“This plainly amounts to an announcement by the NPCSC that the co-operation agreement complies with the Constitution and the Basic Law ‘just because the NPCSC says so’.”
“Such an unprecedented move is the most retrograde step to date in the implementation of the Basic Law, and severely undermines public confidence in ‘one country, two systems’ and the rule of law in the HKSAR.”
The Association also said the joint checkpoint arrangement generated a perception among Hong Kong’s legal community that Beijing could make an unconstitutional decision simply because it was “good” to do so.
“Through the combined efforts of the HKSAR Government, the State Council and the NPCSC in producing [the decision], the integrity of the Basic Law has now been irreparably breached.”
Several leading lawyers and civil groups have been calling on the Bar Association to publicise its position on the joint checkpoint arrangement. Prior to Thursday, the body has only released a three-sentence statement in October asking the government to publicise details about the plan.
Challenger Dykes welcomed the statement in a Facebook post on Thursday night, calling it “long-awaited” by both lawyers and the public.
The Law Society – the professional body of solicitors – has not released any statement on the controversy.